So, the governor with the wacky accent is at it again. This time, the state of California is trying to overturn a US District court ruling that a new law to fine game retailers $1,000 for selling inappropriately violent video games to people under the age of 18 was unconstitutional.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that even as someone who makes their living in the video game industry, I agree with the principle of this law. I really do think that some games just aren’t appropriate for younger audiences. I wouldn’t say 18 necessarily, but that seems to be the arbitrary age at which this side of the world believes you’re an adult so I’ll accept the premise for now.
I will grudgingly admit that there are studies out there that support a link between violence in video games (and TV, and movies, and music and probably cave etchings if you go back far enough) and violence amongst young people. I’ve read (and sworn at) enough articles to admit that this might actually have some basis in reality. I’m not willing to go so far as to say that video games deserve to shoulder the blame every time some teenage wacko picks up a gun and shots up a building from their past, but I’ll stipulate that some games are made for a mature audience.
So yes, Mr. Terminator, sir, when all is said and done, I will agree with you that something needs to be done to enforce age ratings on ultra violent games. You’re just going about it the wrong way.
Now, here’s where I get up on my soap box and talk about the reasons why I disagree with this law. If you know the song, feel free to sing along:
There’s a lot of stuff out there right now that should be a lot higher on the list of priorities for preventing the corruption of minors: guns, drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, porn, HBO and anything else we as a society deem unfit for minor consumption all pose a much, much greater risk to young people and in many cases are just as accessible, as inappropriate video games.
The impression that I get here is that video games are being targeted now not because it’s best for the kids, but because video games are the hot buzz word and easy scapegoat for almost everything these days. It’s not like there’s any historical precedent for this kind of over-reaction to something “new” other than the coming of ages of radio, movies, rock and roll, television and other entertainment media… but why let history get in the way of a good scapegoating? That Presley kid probably needed to stop swaying those hips lest our young ladies turn to thoughts of a sexual nature.
So, ignoring the fact that video games aren’t the root of all under age evil, let’s move on to looking at the original law itself and its effectiveness at protecting YOUR children (because after all, this is supposed to be about YOUR children). Setting aside for a moment the fact that more often than not it’s Mom or Dad who actually goes into the store and buys the M rated games for the kids and not the kids themselves, the bottom line is that the law sucks and doesn’t even begin to address the many different ways that under age kids can get their hands on inappropriate games.
It’s the bloody internet age people, and online game sales are on the rise. If kids can’t get the games from the schmo at the local GameStop because of a fine, all they need to do is get a credit card, or paypal, or any number of other online payment methods and get it themselves with no middle man to fine that’s to say nothing of illegal downloads… And I’m nowhere near as talented at getting things online as your average 12 year old. If little Jimmy can get online and download Girls Gone Wild, he’s not gonna have a problem getting GTA IV.
What this law proposes is akin to trying to stop a horde of zombies by locking the front door. Sure, it seems like a good idea at first, but you’ve forgotten about the windows and the entrance to the cellar and before you know it that dude who used to be your accountant is munching on your brain.
No, the solution isn’t a fine that it’s going to be more effort, time and money to enforce than it’s worth. The solution is simple: Education.
Education for kids: We send kids of English class, and in those classes they’re often bored to tears reading novels they have no interest in. The reason that we do this, and have been doing this for decades, is to teach our kids how to take meaning and context from the books that they read. So, why not do the same thing with video games? Why can’t English classes have a unit that teaches kids how to read video games? Why can’t we teach them about video game violence and how it can affect them? Why can’t it be a part of the curriculum to sit these kids down and explain to them the difference between running down a hooker in GTA and stealing Dad’s car and doing it in real life? I know what you’re thinking: the kids should know that, the parents should teach it… This brings me to my next point:
Education for parents: The sad fact of the matter is that parents are often the ones doing the buying of many these violent games for their kids. Whether it’s a lack of knowledge or a lack of caring is on a case by case basis, but if you talk to the average parent of a 13 year old, you’re more than likely going to find out that they have no idea what the ESRB is. They don’t know what M for Mature and E for Everyone mean. In part, you can’t really blame them. For some reason, the ESRB (the group currently in charge of putting ratings on games) has taken these warnings that are meant to be taken very seriously and used names that sound like they came out of a marketing buzz word meeting… Rated E for Everyone, Rated M for Mature, rated A for Awesome… it all sounds the same. This doesn’t excuse parents who should be going out of their way to find out what these ratings mean, but it sure doesn’t help.
Parents need to be made aware of not only the rating system, but of what games are out there, what they’re about and how they can affect their children. I don’t mean in the reactionist “look how bad and evil these things are” way that information has been presented to them in the past, but in an honest and upfront way. If you feel like you have a valid point to make about the dangers of video games, don’t try to scare parents into taking you seriously (we’ve all had quite enough of THAT practice), just present them with the honest facts. “No, Jimmy’s Mom, your son playing GTA IV probably won’t make him steal Dad’s car to run over hookers in the park, but studies have shown that children who play violent video games are often more prone to violent thought or violence for a time after playing the game. “
That’s just my two cents. I think that educating the people involved (including the kids) about the real facts behind a situation is preferable to two sides going off half-cocked in a baseless Hatfield and McCoy style feud.
Advice for politicians: Sure, the video games industry is fighting you on this law. I don’t blame them, it’s dumb. That doesn’t mean that they don’t believe that keeping inappropriate games out of the hands of under age people isn’t in everyone’s best interest. Contrary to popular belief, video game makers aren’t actually evil. The thing is, they know very well how Jimmy’s getting his hands on those games. They’ve done extensive research on their demographics, who’s getting their games and how. They know all of the ways that people are obtaining their games, legal and not so legal and if you worked with them, I’m sure they’d help you to come up with a law that actually makes sense and doesn’t end with a brain eating accountant.
The whole industry isn’t against you. Many of us like the spirit behind what this law is trying to accomplish, but the way you’re handling it, it’s like you’re itching for a fight here and that’s just not cool… video games are big business in California, better to work with them than against them.
Advice for the industry: I don’t really claim to speak for the video games industry, I’m not that self-important (close, but not quite). The thing is though that there’s no point in getting mindlessly adversarial about the whole situation. I’m sure you agree that if a game is made for an adult audience, that it shouldn’t be played by minors. In principle, you probably agree with what the California government is trying to accomplish, so maybe it’s time to offer alternate solutions to a problem that, like it or not, does exist.
/steps off soap box.